Jarkko Ruutu is hockeyís version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Currently in his ninth NHL season, and his first with the Ottawa Senators, Ruutu is as nasty as they come on the ice, doggedly infuriating opposing players, and their fans, with his agitating style of play. Off the ice, the 33-year-old native of Helsinki is the polar opposite. Appearing almost professorial behind a pair of wire-rim glasses, Ruutu is at once thoughtful and playful, having somehow morphed from Public Enemy Number One into the genial family man who lives next door. Ruutu talked about his dual personality, including the role he plays as an instigator, prior to a recent game.
David Laurila: Are you a different person off the ice than you are on the ice?
Jarkko Ruutu: I would think that those are two different things. I think Iím pretty positive and a little goofy, I guess. Iím not too serious of a guy. But I do try to do everything 100 percent; I put 100 percent into everything I do. Maybe itís easier to ask the other guys what IĎm like off the ice, though. But I try to be like that.
DL: Are people often surprised to find that you have a much different personality off the ice?
JR: Yeah, almost every time. I meet people and their comment afterwards -- either they tell it to me or they tell someone else -- is, well, ďHeís actually a good guy and I thought it would be totally different.Ē But itís the picture you get through the media, and thereís the way I play, so I donít blame them. Thatís just the way it is. But I have no problems with it.
DL: How do you view your role on the ice?
JR: Iím not fun to play against. Iím willing to do whatever it takes to win, because winning is the best thing there is. Iíve been really fortunate to play for successful teams at a lot of different levels and I guess thatís why teams keep signing me. I think that crunch time is when I maybe play my best hockey, too.
DL: When you left Finland to play at Michigan Tech, could you have imagined yourself playing in the NHL, in this particular role?
JR: You never know what is going to happen down the road. Iíve always looked at it as today. I give 100 percent, whatever Iíve got. Iíll do extra work, and if you do that youíll get whatever youíre supposed to. Nobody can tell you that youíre going to be an NHL player if you donít put the effort into it. And even if you have all the skill and work ethic, you might get hurt. Itís a long way, but when I look back, itís amazing where Iíve been since then.
DL: What brought you to Michigan Tech in 1995?
JR: What happened is that I was going to actually sign with a Finnish Elite League team. The season was over for me and we were just playing some shinny. One of the other Finnish guys was supposed to go there and the coach came to see him. By accident, our coach was friends with the guy so they stopped by and he ended up offering me a full ride. I thought about it for two months -- I had papers ready for both places, signing with the Elite or going there -- and I thought, ďWhy not?Ē I figured Iíd go there to see what it was like and I think it was a great experience. It taught me a lot, playing in college. A lot of people donít understand what that takes. You have to go to school and do your homework, and then you have to practice and play; you have no free time. It takes a lot out of you, but it teaches you a lot, too.
DL: Michigan Tech is in Houghton, a community with a lot of Finnish heritage, in Michiganís Upper Peninsula. Did you find it to be at all similar to your homeland?
JR: Iím from the Helsinki area, so it was so much smaller than what I was used to, and thereís way more snow, too. I donít know. A lot of people think itís the exact same, but itís changed a lot from when all the immigrants moved there from Finland. Itís changed over the years and the culture is kind of mixed. Yeah, there are some Finnish things, but mostly it was just an opportunity to go to school with some American and Canadian kids.
DL: Do you ever speak Finnish on the ice? Not to other Finns, but to players youíre trying to agitate?
JR: No, I never speak any, but I guess that maybe they donít understand me and think Iím speaking Finnish, sometimes. Theyíre probably a little confused with me anyway. Most of the time I donít even remember what Iím saying on the ice. I donít even listen to what the other guys are saying, so itĎs hard to tell if they know what IĎm saying.
DL: Are there certain players around the league who are much harder to knock off their game than others?
JR: I think you just have to go game by game. You know the teams. You play against the teams, so you know the guys who you can get off their game and frustrate them more than others, but it also has a lot to do with the situation of the game. If youíre up, itís a lot easier to get guys going. If youíre down it doesnít really work as well. Itís just a fine line. You have to be able to read whatís happening in the game, and within the players, and targetÖyeah, you can target a guy and get everybody else going after you. Thatís whereÖsometimes that works and sometimes it doesnít. So itís not just one thing. You have to be able to read whatís happening on the ice.
DL: You said that youíre not fun to play against. Who are some of the guys that arenít fun for you to play against, not because of their skill, but because of their edginess?
JR: Itís tough to say. There are a lot of guys. If you just look at our team, thereís a guy like [Anton] Volchenkov and how he plays. Guys like that, they donít give you any room and are always going for a hit. Theyíre solid skaters and theyíre strongÖthere are a lot of guys. I could probably name quite a few of them. I donít have the list in front of me, though.
DL: What role do penalties play in your game, both how many you take and how many youíre able to draw?
JR: It goes both ways, and I think Iím being called for penalties a lot easier than a lot of other guys, but I understand thatís part of my reputation. It goes the other way -- guys donít get called when they do stuff with me. But hey, like I said, you have to initiate and make them retaliate, and itís a lot easier to do when youíre winning. Yeah, itís part of it.
DL: Does who is officiating on a given night impact your play, because of the way they call the game?
JR: I donít really pay too much attention to that, I know there are a lot of guys who donít like me, so I just have to be careful. I have to accept my role, and the reputationÖwhere Iím at. I have to play along with it. Like I said, there are a lot of guys in the league, and referees, who want to see me get called, or fail. But I understand it and I have no problem with it.
DL: A number of guys who play the role of an agitator donít like to drop the gloves. Do you mind fighting?
JR: I think itís part of the game, and I like it. But I know my limits; IĎm not stupid. And staged fighting doesnít really do anything. I think you have to time it right. Thereís a time and place for it; sometimes you need it and sometimes you donít. You have to knowÖeven if you know you can fight a guy, and it would be a good thing, you donít want to do it because you know itís not going to help your team in that situation. You donít want to wake up the other team. So itís a game-by-game, basis-by-basis thing, and I like it. I donít mind it.
DL: Any final thoughts?
JR: Itís one of those thingsÖI know myself pretty well. I accept who I am, and maybe some of these things you should ask my teammates. They had a certain picture before they played with me. They only knew me from the ice, and thatís a different person, I think. Youíd have to ask them.